November 29th, 2014 § § permalink
Would you dodge taxes, if you were sure you could get away with it? Absolutely you would, according to standard economic theory:
In the benchmark economic model, the key policy parameters affecting tax evasion are the tax rate, the detection probability, and the penalty imposed conditional on the evasion being detected.
But that doesn’t match reality, argues this paper on so-called “tax morale”. All but the slimiest of us have some inclination to pay up. If we didn’t then tax revenues would be far, far lower than they currently are.
Some economists have attempted to measure this. One way is to look at what gets paid in the absence of enforcement. There is absolutely no enforcement of the church tax in Bavaria, but 20% of people pay anyway. Or you can assume that migrant entrepreneurs bring attitudes to tax with them. In the US, there’s an 8% gap in tax evasion between Nigerian-owned and Swedish-owned companies.
November 20th, 2014 § § permalink
When you need to pee, you’re less likely to believe in free will.
Ridiculous as that may be, it fits into a consistent pattern. If you’re tired or horny, you (on average) believe less in free will. Likewise if you’re epileptic or suffer panic attacks.
The researchers are keeping their evidence secret, so let’s generalize a bit. The more you are at the mercy of your body, the less likely you are to imagine yourself as choosing your own destiny.
I’ve no idea how free will was defined (again, because paywall). But it fits perfectly into the wider story of how the belief in autonomy and free choice correlate with privilege. So you have billionaires convinced they have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, while thanks to learned helplessness, if you’ve spent a lifetime being shat on, you probably expect it to keep happening whatever you do.
November 19th, 2014 § § permalink
Did you ever expect to worry about a shortage of cults?. Ross Douthat summarizes an argument from Peter Thiel:
Not only religious vitality but the entirety of human innovation, he argues, depends on the belief that there are major secrets left to be uncovered, insights that existing institutions have failed to unlock (or perhaps forgotten), better ways of living that a small group might successfully embrace.
November 17th, 2014 § § permalink
Trade with Iran is one of the underlying themes of the corruption scandal which is engulfing Turkey. Sanctions on Iran led to it being excluded from the SWIFT network in March 2012, making it hard to send payment to Iran. But Turkey wanted to buy Iranian oil. So they figured out a dodge. Oil purchasers would deposit money at Turkey’s Halkbank, now at the centre of investigation. Iran would use this money to buy physical gold, which could be transported to Iran.
The entire deal infuriated the USA and others. While it was an open secret, the practitioners went to some lengths to conceal it — apparently involving Chinese front companies. Still, it’s plainly in the trade statistics:
We see a huge rise from March 2012 — when SWIFT blocked Iran — before a sudden collapse in August that year. The numbers are huge — the peak is over $1.8 billion dollars.
What happened in August 2012? Perhaps it’s linked to Obama’s Executive Order 13622, which brought gold under US national sanctions on Iran. This did not directly affect Turkey, but could have been twinned with similar pressure by American diplomats in Turkey.
What seems to have happened, in part, is another level of indirection. The gold, according to media reports, started being routed through UAE. Here’s how it looks in the trade statistics — a perfect match for the chart above.
[for more detail on this story, you could do worse than look at this report from May]
Why has this open secret turned into a corruption scandal now? Foreign Policy
While the gas-for-gold scheme may have been technically legal before Congress finally shut it down in July, it appears to have exposed the Turkish political elite to a vast Iranian underworld
November 15th, 2014 § § permalink
Has the internet been getting nastier, or do we just notice it more now? The latter, says Kameron Hurley:
Just because internet harassment shows up on CNN doesn’t mean it’s new. It just means it’s more visible.
And yes, we’re the ones who made it visible, after enduring a lot of bullshit.
After dealing quietly with abuse since the beginning of the internet, many folks, most of them women, decided to air the reality of the abuse they received, and though it took nearly a decade, men and mainstream media outlets finally started believing it was something that existed, and started signal boosting. Suddenly we were seeing posts that compiled all the horrible comments they got, the ones we deleted quietly back in the day. Not a day goes by now, it seems, when someone on Twitter isn’t retweeting some horrible thing some troll said to them.
Also a neat little anti-hate-mail trick:
I also reduced the number of email threats I got really easily, by simply changing my email address to a “publicity@” address instead of a “Kameron@” address. When someone sends you something hateful, they want to KNOW you’re getting it. They don’t want to think it’s being vetted by some publicist.
November 15th, 2014 § § permalink
The Interplanetary File-system must be one of the most interesting technical concepts I’ve come across lately.
[warning: the below is pretty technical. Likely both confused and confusing, written to help me et my head round IPFS]
Globally distributed file-storage is something that’s been just around the corner for a long time now. Bittorrent and the like got us 90% of the way there, but functioned as mechanisms for sharing single files, rather than as a layer of infrastructure for other applications to be built on.
To download a file (as with bittorrent) you query its hash in a Distributed Hash Table. You get a list of users storing that file, and download it from them. As a file becomes more popular it becomes cached by more users, so no one node gets overloaded — again like bittorrent. The IPFS designers are also leaving room for more ambitious incentive schemes like Filecoin.
As for uploading: each user has a writeable directory, with an address generated from a keypair. This means the system can enforce only one user being able to write to a directory, without needing any central authority. Only you can upload to your directory, because only you can sign uploads with the private key corresponding to the public key in your directory name.
There’s also a git-like version history built into the filesystem. This feels like overkill to me. The advantage, though, is that you can provide a mutable-seeming directory structure, while under the surface the directory is an immutable data structure, namely a Merkle Tree. It also means that files don’t get deleted — the user just commits a version of the directory without the files. And perhaps you hope that other nodes won’t store the old data, but you have no way to enforce that.
Here’s how creator Juan Benet describes it:
IPFS provides a high through-put content-addressed block storage model, with content-addressed hyper links. This forms a generalized Merkle DAG, a data structure upon which one can build versioned file systems, blockchains, and even a Permanent Web. IPFS combines a distributed hashtable, an incentivized block exchange, and a self-certifying namespace. IPFS has no single point of failure, and nodes do not need to trust each other.
IPFS gives every user a writeable directory, with an address based on their key
November 10th, 2014 § § permalink
I’m enjoying this tumblr dedicated to bad ConLang ideas. Some highlights:
- A language that is right branching when the speaker is happy and left branching when sad.
- Boustrophedon is pretty cool, and having letters that are rotations and flips of other letters means that you have to make fewer letter shapes, making it easier to create and alphabet, so why not use both together?
- Your gender system should classify dead people based on how they died, and living people based on how you think they will die or how you want them to die. One of the grammatical genders is used only for wombat attacks.
- A conlang where each number is expressed as its prime factorization, rather than using a place system
- Require in your conlang unreleased implosives, like /ɠ̚/, after every few words or so. That way you can sound like you’re speaking to a nice thumping bass beat.
November 3rd, 2014 § § permalink
Church-building is one of the oldest forms of self-aggrandisement. It’s especially suitable for those with a bit of guilt about however they obtained their wealth and power. Even the Hagia Sophia, perhaps the greatest church (or mosque) ever built, was perhaps partly built to expiate Justinian’s guilt at massacring the Nike rioters.
Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s entry into this tradition will not be remembered for as long, even if it does outdo the Hagia Sophia in sheer size. In fact, it has some claim to to be the largest church in the world. The president of the Ivory Coast built it at a cost of $300 million, claiming it was “a deal with God”.
Messy Nessy Chic writes that:
the whole thing is arguably one big empty and outrageous contradiction. Up to 18,000 people can worship in the basilica (7,000 seated, 11,000 standing) but in a nation where more than two thirds of its people aren’t even Christian, it has a tough time filling just a few seats. A recent visitor to the Ivory Coast told me that there couldn’t have been more than three other people inside when he toured the massive house of worship.
November 2nd, 2014 § § permalink
Alcoholics Anonymous is something I know mainly from Hollywood, which has an ongoing obsession with the format. It fills roughly the expository niche that was once occupied by psychoanalysis — it’s an easy way to fill in backstory, and enable introspection that would otherwise be totally out-of-character.
Still, AA gives me the creeps — the religiosity, the rigidity, the all-or-nothing approach. If I were ever addicted, I’d run a mile from anything with 12 steps.
I occasionally wonder how fair that is. Is AA, as Hollywood would have it, the One True Way to cope with addition? Scott at SlateStarCodex has dug into the research. Turns out that even that can’t help: “the studies surrounding Alcoholics Anonymous are some of the most convoluted, hilariously screwed-up research I have ever seen“.
AA does seem to work better than no treatment. But then, so does psychotherapy. So does acupuncture. So does 5 minutes of a doctor suggesting that you think about quitting.
most alcoholics get better on their own. All treatments for alcoholism…increase this already-high chance of recovery a small but nonzero amount. Furthermore, they are equally effective after only a tiny dose: your first couple of meetings, your first therapy session.
November 1st, 2014 § § permalink
Another idea I [Alinsky] had that almost came to fruition was directed at the Rochester Philharmonic, which was the establishment’s — and Kodak’s — cultural jewel. I suggested we pick a night when the music would be relatively quiet and buy 100 seats. The 100 blacks scheduled to attend the concert would then be treated to a preshow banquet in the community consisting of nothing but huge portions of baked beans. Can you imagine the inevitable consequences within the symphony hall? The concert would be over before the first movement — another Freudian slip — and Rochester would be immortalized as the site of the world’s first fart-in.